17 steps toward a better year in 2017

Ways to make our communities and our country a little bit better

Let’s face it: 2016 was one tough year. In no particular order, there was Syria, Orlando, Dallas, San Bernardino, Charlotte, Nice and Berlin. There was flooding, warming, droughts, Zika and Flint. There was Bowie, Ali, Cohen, Michael, Fisher, Wiesel and Prince. And yes, there was the election.

In the name of new beginnings, I present 17 simple steps to make our communities and our country a little bit better in 2017.

1. Shop local. Buying from that mom-and-pop shop down the street pumps three times more money into the local economy than buying from a chain, and almost 50 times more than buying online. It’s also personal, creative and fun.

2. Smile – especially when you want to frown. Studies show that the simple act of smiling releases endorphins and other feel-good neurotransmitters that lower your blood pressure, relieve pain and lift your mood. Besides, smiling makes you more attractive and is contagious. Why not make other people happier and healthier, too?

3. Give facts a chance. Take out a subscription to your local newspaper and pitch in to public broadcasting so real-live journalists can do the thing we so desperately need them to do in a democracy: investigate and inform. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.

4. Milk a cow. Remembering where your milk and cheese come from – and all your food for that matter – will help you enjoy eating all the more, while putting an appropriately sour taste in your mouth when it comes to factory farms. New Hampshire has well over 100 local organic farms, and they’re well worth a visit.

5. Volunteer in your community. Lord knows the need is out there, and the opportunities too. From tried-and-true nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, PAL and The Y to your local soup kitchen, homeless shelter and school, there’s plenty of opportunity to impact your community for the better. Know an 18- to 24-year-old in search of purpose and some college funds? Have them check out AmeriCorps or the military for a life-changing service experience.

6. Exercise unconventionally. Jogging at the gym is well and good, but we all know what it feels like to break the quintessential New Year’s resolution. For a change of pace, sign up for the local softball league; hike or ski some of New Hampshire’s famous peaks; go contra dancing; join the Crossfit craze.

7. Get a moose plate. The sad truth is that New Hampshire’s iconic moose are dying by a million tick bites, thanks to climate change. Help turn the tide by investing in state conservation initiatives and by supporting one of the many great environmental organizations active in our state.

8. Go jump in a lake – literally. New Hampshire is home to hundreds of clearwater gems, as well as a dozen of the finest miles of Atlantic coastline. If swimming ain’t your thing, bring a rod and hook your dinner. Need I say more?

9. Get out and run – figuratively. Yes, I know you’re probably feeling depressed about politics, but 2017 is a local election year, so you can do something about it, and fast. Getting on the ballot is easy – just stop by your town or city clerk to learn more. Or find out who’s running and volunteer.

10. Move up with a MOOC. Feeling intellectually stunted or stuck in your job? If accredited college courses don’t quite fit your calendar or your budget, check out the dizzying array of Massive Online Open Courses, taught by highly qualified instructors, on-demand and available to all.

11. Stop by a local church on Sunday. I don’t care if you’re an atheist or the pope, we all need community to be happy and one place you’re sure to find it is that whitewashed old building with a steeple in the center of town. Studies find that people who attend church regularly are a good deal happier than the rest.

12. Make, or listen to, live music. Put away the Xbox and Pokemon Go: Music lessons are where it’s at if you want to improve your neural processing and help your kids succeed in school. For a little inspiration, check out New Hampshire’s many live music venues, offering big names (Verizon Wireless Arena), old classics (Tupelo), classical (Symphony NH), up-and-coming (Old Sol, Riverwalk Cafe) and so much more.

13. Eat local. Regardless of whether you can afford that fancy farm-to-table bistro or not, check your local paper for listings of one of the dozens of free community suppers that happen every week around the state. An extra dose of friendly relations never hurt.

14. Testify. Granite Staters are the most represented folks on earth, thanks to our 424-strong Legislature, town meetings, school boards and the like. That means access is easy. If showing up in person ain’t your thing, express your views in print with a letter to the editor of your local paper. It’s a cheaper way to vent than therapy, and you might even open some folks’ eyes.

15. Go maple. Blind taste tests confirm what we Granite Staters have known all along: New Hampshire maple syrup is the finest in the world. Every spring, sugar shacks around the state throw open their doors for the true maple experience, and eateries like Parker’s Maple Barn and Polly’s Pancake Parlor serve up the good stuff year-round. ‘Nuff said.

16. Turn off the screen and sleep. A recent study found that Americans spend almost 11 hours a day on screens, and climbing. That’s enough to make one crazy. Meanwhile, almost half of us report that poor or insufficient sleep is affecting our daily lives for the worse. Just turn it off and give your mind a break. You won’t regret it.

17. Have babies – or help shepherd the kids in your life. The best (and only) road to immortality is to raise up good people after you who will continue your work of making the world a better place. Besides, New Hampshire is the fastest-aging state so more babies can’t hurt.

Daniel Weeks lives in Nashua with his wife and two kids.

Categories: Opinion